Snake Care Sheet
Kathy Love - CornUtopia
Corn Snakes are the
most popular pet snakes in the world. Their
perfect size – not so small as to be delicate, and not too large as to be
difficult or dangerous to handle – is only the beginning.
Combine that with their easily met husbandry requirements and beautiful
and varied colors and patterns, and corns are assured a top place in
herpetoculture for many generations to come.
Corn snake is the most
popular common name, but they are also sometimes called red rat snakes.
Traditionally known by the scientific (Latin) name of Elaphe
guttata guttata, relatively recent taxonomic work has given them the newer
name of Pantherophis guttatus, which
seems to have gained widespread acceptance now.
You may encounter either name in books or on forums.
Range & Origin
Native to the
southeastern United States, a small population exists as far north as the
southern part of New Jersey, and as far west as Kentucky and Louisiana.
Further west, closely related species are found, but they lack the bright
colors and popularity of corns. Color
varies from region to region, with some areas known for giving rise to
particular variants such as the Miami phase from southeastern Florida, and the
Okeetee, from southern coastal South Carolina.
Keep in mind that the original, wild-caught specimens from those areas
are not likely to look quite as spectacular as those selectively bred over many
generations of domestic breeding.
Males average somewhat
larger than females, very rarely reaching 6 feet and possibly weighing as much
as 2 pounds. 4 – 4.5 feet is a
much more likely adult size, especially for females, but specimens as small as
2.5 feet can sometimes be large enough to reproduce.
Many corns in
captivity have lived into their 20s. The
record is 32 years. A few females
have reproduced in their mid-teens, but fertility often decreases significantly
after 10 years of age. A retired,
breeder “teenaged” corn can still provide many years of enjoyment as a pet
with gentle and consistent care.
Hatchling corns are
usually started in an escape-proof, plastic container such as a clear shoebox.
It is important that they have places to hide and feel secure since most
baby corns in the wild are eaten before they reach adulthood.
Babies that don’t try to hide were removed from the gene pool a long
Adults require a
minimum of a 20-gallon long aquarium size (12 inches by 30 inches) – but
bigger is better. All corns are
escape artists! It is very important
to provide a secure cage, and to remember to tightly close it.
Locks are important if there are children or others in the household who
may forget to close it responsibly after each opening.
Most breeders prefer
shredded aspen bedding. It is very
soft and absorbent, and not likely to cause injury if a small amount is
ingested. Juvenile corns love to
burrow in it and seem to gain a sense of security hiding beneath it.
can withstand chilly temperatures of 50°F, or even less, when brumating without
food or during shipping. But active,
feeding corns should have a warm spot of the mid 80s°F available to help digest
food. It doesn’t matter if the
warm spot is provided by a basking light (turn it off at night to provide day
and night intervals) or an under-tank heating pad.
The important thing is to use a thermometer to measure the temperature
INSIDE the warm hide box – not on the glass sides of the cage!
A thermometer with a probe will allow you to check the temperature where
the snake actually spends its time. It
is not important to check 24 / 7. New
set-ups should be checked frequently – perhaps a couple of times per day.
Once well established, checking at different times of the day once per
week should be sufficient. The rest
of the cage can be normal room temperature –
usually in the 70s Fahrenheit.
Be sure to provide two
identical hides – one warm, and one cool.
Two choices insure that your pet will not choose the best hiding spot
instead of the proper temperature.
I never measure
humidity. The best way to know if
the humidity is proper is to wait for the snake to shed.
It is best to add a little damp moss in the hide box when its eyes go
‘blue’ a week or more before shedding. If
the snake sheds in one piece, the humidity level is fine.
If the shed is in many pieces, or sticks to the snake, it is too dry.
As long as there is no sign of mold or fungus in the cage, it is probably
not too wet. Remove the damp moss
between sheds and let it dry. You
can reuse it for the next shed, or replace it.
Corns are not really
social creatures. They may
occasionally share a hiding spot in nature, but are generally solitary except
during breeding season. Housing more
than one per cage causes stress, and may lead to stress-related problems that
usually affect feeding and digestion. Beginners
should especially avoid this easily-prevented stress by keeping each snake alone
except during breeding attempts.
Mice and other rodents
of the appropriate size are the most common food items.
Most babies will eat newborn ‘pinkie’ mice.
If they won’t accept frozen / thawed pinks within a few weeks, it may
be necessary to start hatchlings on live pinkies.
They usually switch easily after a few live meals as they begin to
recognize food by smell. Bigger
corns often love chicks and other birds as well as rodents, and rarely refuse
frozen, well- thawed items. A good
feeding schedule may be every 5 – 7 days for babies and yearlings, to once per
7 – 10 days for adults. The food
item for new pets should barely make the snake’s belly bulge to avoid
stress-related regurgitation. Once
well-established, the food item should make a definite but not huge bulge after
it has been consumed.
Digestion problems are
the most common symptoms of stress in corns.
If a snake is stressed by incorrect temperatures, handling, shedding,
cagemates, incorrect husbandry, or any other stressor, it is likely to either
refuse food or to regurgitate before digestion is complete.
Regurgitation is very serious, and repeated episodes can lead to death.
Thus, it is important to avoid feeding after regurgitation until you have
read the “regurge protocol”, available here: http://www.cornsnakes.com/forums/showthread.php?t=28342
Aspen bedding is very
easy to spot-clean because the moisture and feces tend to stay in one spot.
You can pick out the dirty spots a few days after feeding, and replace
the entire bedding when it appears or smells dirty.
Timing will depend on the size of the cage, snake, frequency of feeding,
etc. As a general rule, corns are
less messy than king snakes, and corn snake feces tend to be a little drier and
seldom smeared over the whole cage.
It is important to
realize that a new acquisition is under a lot of stress adjusting to its new
home. Handling is an added stress
that is better left to a well-adjusted snake.
Try to handle baby snakes as little as possible the first few weeks.
Only later slowly increase handling to short but frequent handling
sessions. Remember that babies
assume you are a giant predator, and that they will react accordingly.
Don’t be surprised when they behave defensively or try to hide.
As they grow, they have fewer natural predators and less reason to hide.
With gentle and consistent handling, most corn snakes will grow up as
gentle as any cat or dog. But
patience is just as much a virtue in baby snake training as in puppy or kitten
training. Most adult corns don’t
mind being handled for a few hours per day once they are used to it.
Try to avoid handling during the week or two prior to shedding because
some snakes are more nervous at that time, plus it is also possible to tear the
As you can see, corn
snakes have only a few definite requirements.
But once those requirements are met, well-established corns are usually
as easy to keep, and as problem free, as any pet reptile available.
This overview should
provide enough information to get started. There
are many sources for further study, such as my book, or the following forums:
About the Author
I have been interested
in reptiles and other animals since childhood.
Reptile keeping began in earnest for me during high school back in
Wisconsin in the late 1960s. The
1970s saw me running a mobile reptile exhibit, where I met and married Bill
Love. We settled in Florida, where
more reptiles were kept and bred. I
worked as a nurse for a while to fund our fledgling reptile business in the
1980s. Together, we wrote The
Corn Snake Manual, and later, Corn
Snakes, the Comprehensive Owner’s Guide , available here: http://cornutopia.com/Corn%20Utopia%20on%20the%20Web/%20BOOKS%20POSTERS%20herp%20for%20sale%20Cornutopia%20corn%20snakes%20cornsnakes.htm
If you are interested
in reading more about my history, you can find details here: